Oh, baby!

“When we decided to adopt a child, my husband’s number one concern was how to afford the adoption,” says Faith Allen, who adopted her son Nicholas in 2001.

The cost of adoption can be daunting — and confusing. Fees vary depending on the type of adoption and, in the case of foreign adoption, the child’s birth country. And, rather than one lump sum, potential parents face several smaller bills for various services, from psychologists and doctors to travel agents and lawyers.

It all adds up
Total adoption costs for a healthy U.S. infant or for an international adoptee can start as low as $15,000 but they increase drastically from there — sometimes as high as $40,000 — according to Walling, Berg & Debele, P.A., a Minneapolis law firm focusing on family law. The total cost will vary depending on medical bills, birth mother expenses, and legal fees.

All adoptive parents in Minnesota must undergo a home study. This is an assessment performed by a licensed child-placing agency of whether the adopting family can provide an adequate home environment. The cost for this can range from $1,000 to $3,000. Adoption Minnesota offers the least expensive home study in the state at $1,900.

Adoption agencies may break down their total bill into application fees, study fees, and processing and placement fees. At Children’s Home Society, the largest adoption agency in Minnesota, these various costs total $8,145, but reductions based on a sliding scale are available. Any legal fees — and Children’s Home strongly encourages the use of a lawyer in domestic infant adoption — are all in addition to these fees and are paid to the lawyer directly.

Beyond that, Children’s Home also charges program fees. The domestic infant program fee is $7,800, and program fees for various countries vary from $4,000 to $18,000. For international adoption, parents will also need to budget for travel and accommodations abroad, as well as for substantial time off from work.

Many agencies will waive some or all of these fees for families who are willing and able to adopt Minnesota’s waiting children and waiting international children — these are older children, sibling groups, and children with disabilities. Families adopting special needs children may also qualify for reimbursement of nonrecurring expenses, such as placement fees, court and attorney fees, transportation, and lodging.

Foster care adoption (learn more on page 16) is often the least expensive option, with no agency fees at all, but families may need to budget for travel and attorney’s fees.

Find help
A good place to start looking for assistance may be your employer. Some employers provide employees with adoption benefits, including a cash bonus. According to a 2004 survey by Hewitt Associates, 39 percent of major U.S. employers offer assistance with adoption costs, with an average maximum benefit of $3,879.

Many adoption organizations also offer low-interest loans and grants. There are also tax benefits to adopting that may offset costs.

Clients of Walling, Berg & Debele, P.A., have found creative ways to finance their adoptions. Families may often ask relatives for small donations or hold bike-a-thons or yard sales. Parents may use frequent flyer miles to cover travel expenses. Others resort to refinancing their homes or borrowing from their retirement funds.

Every year, thousands of Minnesota families dig deep and find a way to bring their child home — and then they start worrying about college costs.

Rachel Yuen is a writer and journalism student at the University of Minnesota.

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